Manchester Central Library

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Manchester Central Library
At Manchester 2018 073.jpg
Manchester Central Library viewed from St Peter's Square
General information
Architectural styleNeoclassical rotunda, Tuscan colonnade in Portland stone, low pitched leaded roof and a two-storey, five-bay Corinthian portico entrance.
Town or city Manchester
Country United Kingdom
Coordinates 53°28′41″N2°14′41″W / 53.478056°N 2.244722°W / 53.478056; -2.244722 Coordinates: 53°28′41″N2°14′41″W / 53.478056°N 2.244722°W / 53.478056; -2.244722
Construction started1930
Completed17 July 1934
ClientManchester Corporation
Design and construction
Architect E. Vincent Harris

Manchester Central Library is the headquarters of the city's library and information service in Manchester, England. Facing St Peter's Square, it was designed by E. Vincent Harris and constructed between 1930 and 1934. The form of the building, a columned portico attached to a rotunda domed structure, is loosely derived from the Pantheon, Rome. At its opening, one critic wrote, "This is the sort of thing which persuades one to believe in the perennial applicability of the Classical canon". [1]

Manchester Library & Information Service public library service in Manchester, UK

There are 24 public libraries in Manchester, England, including the famous Central Library in St Peter’s Square. As of 2012 Central Library is closed for refurbishment, but will reopen on 22 March 2014.

St Peters Square, Manchester

St Peter's Square is a public square in Manchester city centre, England. The north of the square is bounded by Princess Street and the south by Peter Street. To the west of the square is Manchester Central Library, Midland Hotel and Manchester Town Hall Extension. The square is home to the Manchester Cenotaph, the Emmeline Pankhurst statue, and St Peter's Square Metrolink tram stop and incorporates the Peace Garden. In 1819, the area around the square was the site of the Peterloo Massacre.

Rotunda (architecture) building with a circular ground plan

A rotunda is any building with a circular ground plan, and sometimes covered by a dome. It can also refer to a round room within a building. The Pantheon in Rome is a famous rotunda. A Band Rotunda is a circular bandstand, usually with a dome.


The library building is grade II* listed. [2] A four-year project to renovate and refurbish the library commenced in 2010. [3] Central Library re-opened on 22 March 2014.

Listed building Collection of protected architectural creations in the United Kingdom

A listed building, or listed structure, is one that has been placed on one of the four statutory lists maintained by Historic England in England, Historic Environment Scotland in Scotland, Cadw in Wales, and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency in Northern Ireland.



Manchester was the first local authority to provide a public lending and reference library after the passing of the Public Libraries Act 1850. The Manchester Free Library opened at Campfield in September 1852 at a ceremony attended by Charles Dickens. [4] When the Campfield premises were declared to be unsafe in 1877, the library was moved to the old Town Hall in King Street. The library moved again to what is now Piccadilly Gardens, to the former outpatients wing of Manchester Royal Infirmary and an old YMCA hut in 1912. [5]

Public Libraries Act 1850

The Public Libraries Act 1850 was an Act of the United Kingdom Parliament which first gave local boroughs the power to establish free public libraries. The Act was the first legislative step in the creation of an enduring national institution that provides universal free access to information and literature, and was indicative of the moral, social and educative concerns of the time. The legacy of the Act can be followed through subsequent legislation that built on and expanded the powers granted in 1850 and the 4,145 public libraries that exist in the United Kingdom in the 21st century can trace their origins back to this Act.

The Manchester Free Library opened on 5 September 1852 in Manchester, England. It was the first to be set up under the provisions of the Public Libraries Act 1850, which allowed local authorities to impose a local tax of one penny to pay for the service. The terms of the act required that a poll of ratepayers had to be held before the local authority was allowed to spend money on public libraries, and at least two-thirds had to vote in favour. In Manchester's case only 40 of the more than 4000 eligible voters opposed.

Charles Dickens English writer and social critic

Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English writer and social critic. He created some of the world's best-known fictional characters and is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. His works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime, and by the 20th century critics and scholars had recognised him as a literary genius. His novels and short stories are still widely read today.

In 1926 the city council held a competition to design an extension to the town hall and a central library. E. Vincent Harris was selected to design both buildings. His circular design for the library, reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome, was based on libraries in America. The library's foundation stone was laid on 6 May 1930 by the Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. [6] The library was officially opened by King George V on 17 July 1934 after he had laid the foundation stone for the Town Hall Extension. [7]

Pantheon, Rome Roman temple in Rome

The Pantheon is a former Roman temple, now a church, in Rome, Italy, on the site of an earlier temple commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus. It was completed by the emperor Hadrian and probably dedicated about 126 AD. Its date of construction is uncertain, because Hadrian chose not to inscribe the new temple but rather to retain the inscription of Agrippa's older temple, which had burned down.

Manchester Town Hall Extension

Manchester Town Hall Extension was built between 1934 and 1938 to provide additional accommodation for local government services. It was built between St Peter's Square and Lloyd Street in Manchester city centre, England. English Heritage designated it a grade II* listed building on 3 October 1974. Its eclectic style was designed to be a link between the ornate Gothic Revival Manchester Town Hall and the Classical architecture of the Central Library.

Manchester Central Library at Night Manchester Central Library 2.jpg
Manchester Central Library at Night

In 1934 the Blind Collection from Deansgate and the Commercial Library from the Royal Exchange were moved to the library. The Chinese Library Service was set up in 1968.

Royal Exchange, Manchester theatre and shopping centre complex in Manchester, England

The Royal Exchange is a grade II listed building in Manchester, England. It is located in the city centre on the land bounded by St Ann's Square, Exchange Street, Market Street, Cross Street and Old Bank Street. The complex includes the Royal Exchange Theatre and the Royal Exchange Shopping Centre.


Central Library opened in 1934 to much fanfare. Singer-songwriter Ewan MacColl reminisced on the opening: "The new Central Library which replaced the chicken house was an imposing circular structure with an enormous reading room, a small theatre and carrels where serious students could carry on their research without interruption. The portico of the magnificent edifice quickly became a popular rendezvous and "Meet you at the Ref" became a familiar phrase on the lips of students, lovers and unemployed youths. I was there on the opening day and on many days thereafter; the Ref played an important part in my life for I made many friends there." [8]

James Henry Miller, better known by his stage name Ewan MacColl, was an English folk singer, songwriter, communist, labour activist, actor, poet, playwright and record producer.

The library was declared open by King George V on 17 July 1934. [9] George V declared to the crowd: "In the splendid building which I am about to open, the largest library in this country provided by a local authority, the Corporation have ensured for the inhabitants of the city magnificent opportunities for further education and for the pleasant use of leisure." [9]

An employee at the library who was present on opening day said: "When it was being built the public were very intrigued about its final appearance – they were used to rectangular buildings and the shape of the girders used seemed to make little sense. I remember families coming in first to "gawp"... Under the portico became a favourite trysting place. In all, the shape of the building was its best advertisement and it was never necessary to put a notice 'Public Library' on the outside." [10]


Reports emerged in 2008 that the Central Library needed essential renovation to repair and modernise its facilities. [11] The library faced asbestos problems and needed work to maintain its 'structural integrity'. [11] The Central Library closed from 2010 to 2014 for refurbishment and expansion. During the closure its collections were stored in the Winsford Rock Salt Mine; some of the books in the stack joined collections at Greater Manchester County Record Office. Some of its services were available at a temporary location nearby. [12] During renovation, a temporary community library for the city centre was established on Deansgate. [13] Central Library re-opened on 22 March 2014 after a £40 million re-design. [14] The project delivered by Laing O'Rourke won the Construction News Judges Supreme Award in June 2015. It was described as an almost impossibly complex project completed on schedule and within budget. [15]

The indoor plan is now very different. What was the theatre in the basement is now part of the library. A wall was knocked through, making an indoor connection between the library and Manchester Town Hall. The Library Theatre Company will move to their new theatre at HOME (Manchester) in May 2015.


The central Wolfson Reading Room in 2014. Manchester Central Library 2014 re-opening Wolfson Reading Room 7892.JPG
The central Wolfson Reading Room in 2014.
The Shakespeare Hall entrance in 2014. Manchester Central Library 2014 re-opening 7891.JPG
The Shakespeare Hall entrance in 2014.

Designed by architect Vincent Harris, the striking rotunda form of the library was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. Like its 2nd-century model, the library is a round building fronted by a large two-storey portico which forms the main entrance on St Peter's Square, and is surrounded by five bays of Corinthian columns. Around the second and third floors is a Tuscan colonnade, topped by a band of unrelieved Portland stone.

The pitched leaded roof appears from street level to be a dome, but this is only a surrounding roof. The dome that can be seen from within the Great Hall lies within this roof, and cannot be seen from the ground. [16]

On the first floor is the Great Hall, a large reading room topped by a dome. Much of the original furniture designed by the architect can be seen on this floor. Around the rim of the dome is an inscription from the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament: [16]

In former years the dome's acoustics caused an echo problem, which repeated several times any short noise made in the room. Adding sound-absorbing material reduced this effect.

The Shakespeare Hall is an ornate chamber displaying local heraldry and with large stained glass windows. The central window was designed by Robert Anning Bell and depicts William Shakespeare and scenes from his plays. Two side windows designed by George Kruger Gray depict the coats of arms of the City of Manchester, the University of Manchester, and the County and Duchy of Lancaster. The windows were a memorial bequest to the library by Rosa E. Grindon (1848–1923), the widow of Manchester botanist Leo Grindon. [17] [18]

The ceiling decorations include the arms and crests of the Duchy of Lancaster, the See of York, the See of Manchester, the City of Manchester, and Lancashire County Council. The walls of Shakespeare Hall are covered with Hopton Wood stone quarried in Derbyshire. On the walls are the arms of The Manchester Grammar School, Manchester University, the Manchester Regiment, Humphrey Chetham, the Overseers of the Township, England, St. George, St. Mary (patron saint of Manchester), and over the memorial window, Shakespeare.

On the left landing is a white marble statue, the Reading Girl by the Italian sculptor Giovanni Ciniselli. It was bought by the industrialist and promoter of the Manchester Ship Canal, Daniel Adamson. The statue was presented to the library by his grandchildren, the Parkyn family, in 1938. [16]


The new Lending Library in 2014. Manchester Central Library 2014 re-opening Lending Library 7944c.JPG
The new Lending Library in 2014.

It is the second largest public lending library in Britain, after the Library of Birmingham. [19]

Beneath the Great Hall were four floors of steel book stacks providing 35 miles of shelving which accommodated one million books: [20] video. Those floors were only accessible to employees and were environmentally controlled to protect books, many of which are old and fragile. [20] The upper two stack floors occupied all the area under the dome. The fourth level, the Archive unit, was in the basement of the building. The lower two stack floors were smaller because the basement theatre took some of that area. In 2011 when the library closed for the alterations, there were 3600 stack columns supporting approximately 45,000 shelves; those columns were rooted in the sandstone rock underneath and supported the Great Hall's reinforced concrete floor. Placed end to end, those shelves would have covered over 35 miles (56 km). The total floor area was about 7,000 square yards (5,850 m2). [16] After the 2010–2014 alterations, many of the former stack books (except rare or valuable or fragile books) are on public shelves.

The library collections include over 30 incunabula (books published before 1500) and many first and early editions of major works. The special collections include: [16]

Library Theatre

The Library Theatre occupied much of the basement of Manchester Central Library and was the home of the Library Theatre Company, a Manchester City Council service. It was built in 1934 as a lecture theatre, and since 1952 had been used by the Library Theatre Company. After the 2011–2014 alterations its area is now part of the library. A new theatre opened on First Street in partnership with Cornerhouse, Manchester in 2015.

Famous users

The conductor Sir John Barbirolli, was a regular user of the Music Library.[ citation needed ]

Ewan MacColl, folk singer and playwright, educated himself in the library.[ citation needed ]

Anthony Burgess, the novelist who wrote the cult classic A Clockwork Orange , was a regular visitor to the library during his school days. In a volume of his autobiography, Little Wilson and Big God (1987) he recounted his visit to the index system, then in temporary accommodation in Piccadilly, Manchester, where he met an older woman who took him to her flat in Ardwick where she seduced him (p. 121, 1988 Penguin ed.)

Morrissey studied in the library for his A Level exams. Having once tried to use the Language & Literature Library for an unofficial photo session, he was asked to leave by the librarian who did not know who he was. [22]


In 1968 it was recorded that the adult lending stock was 895,000, the adult reference stock 638,200, the junior stock 114,600, a total of nearly one and two thirds of a million volumes. There were about 2,000 reading places and an estimated 10,000 people visited the library each day. There were subscriptions to 3,000 periodicals. [23]

A panoramic view of St Peter's Square. From the far left to right: Midland Hotel, Manchester Central Library (before the current alterations), and Manchester Town Hall extension. St Peter's Square, Midlands Hotel, Central Library, Town Hall.jpg
A panoramic view of St Peter's Square. From the far left to right: Midland Hotel, Manchester Central Library (before the current alterations), and Manchester Town Hall extension.

See also

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  15. "Judges Supreme Award: Winner". Construction News. 30 June 2015. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
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  18. She was the author of Shakespeare & his plays from a woman's point of view, published in 1930.
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  21. Antonio Vivaldi, Manchester Violin Sonatas (1720, reprinted 1976) ISBN   0-89579-072-6
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  23. Cotton, G. B. (1971) "Public libraries in the North West", in: Libraries in the North West: special issue of "North Western Newsletter" . Manchester: Library Association (North Western Branch); p. 6